Coming on the heels of Utah’s gay pride celebration, I guess the timing could have been worse. This video showed up on my Facebook news feed this morning:
Of course, I was dismayed. I still feel, as I have for many years, that we have a long way to go when it comes to being inclusive at church. Unfortunately, technology has far surpassed church officials when it comes to bringing change to our sacrament meetings, and cell phones are a great example.
I usually use my phone to read conference talks or scriptures as the sacrament is passed, or to supplement what is being said over the pulpit. It was simply a matter of time, though, before someone managed to catch good intentions gone wrong over the LDS pulpit on video. I don’t think that was Savannah’s original plan, though. One commentator to the post seemed to have some inside knowledge to the reason Savannah had her testimony filmed:
She had a friend film it because she wanted to show a positive message to her friends about the church. She expected a positive reaction from her ward. The friends she was going to show are in a group called “rainbow mutual,” a group of LGBT LDS kids that don’t feel welcome at their normal mutual groups so they meet together to try and stay true to the gospel and true to themselves at the same time.
Obviously, it didn’t work out the way Savannah had thought it would, and people were reacting. It made me sad, but more than that, recalling the huge spike in suicides among LDS teens in the weeks following the November 2015 leader handbook change, it made me scared. Savannah was trying to bring hope to her peers. What followed was far less than hopeful.
I admit I was angry too. I wondered why the stake leader felt it necessary to cut her down so publicly and abruptly. Of course, it had occurred to me that Savannah’s message sounded oppositional to church policy, but if they had just heard her out, they would have realized that she was attempting to point out the hopefulness of her situation within the gospel message of love.
As I struggled to wrap my mind around this poor young lady’s situation and the varied reaction of well-meaning church members, this message from Chris Bentley, a friend from my college days, appeared in my feed. Brother Bentley says it better than I could:
I just saw a recording of an incident that has reminded me of something that I’ve grown to realize as being very important and true. I preface this statement by saying that I’m about as upstanding as a single 33 year old LDS man can be. I have never turned down a calling. I pay tithing, go to church almost without fail and participate in meetings. I pray and read scriptures and fast and go to the temple as often as I can.
I needed to say that first because I’ve studied organizations enough to know that active members of an organization almost always have more influence on the thinking and feelings of other active adherents than those who have chosen to leave. This is the case for most groups whether it be a church or a political party.
So as an active member of the LDS faith, I plead with other active members to consider what Jesus Christ will be most interested in hearing about when we make an accounting of our life. Do you think he will be more interested in hearing about how we’ve demonstrated that we have learned how to love as he does: unconditionally and giving grace so much more and in surprising ways than judgment. Or do you really suppose he will be more interested in hearing about how zealously or “righteously” we have defended the Church’s stance on gay marriage? I think that if we really looked deep down, we’d all have to come to the conclusion that he’s going to be so much more eager to have us learn how to love than to judge or even be “right.”
If you’re even a bit like me, you’ll have to admit that we don’t do very many things perfectly. And knowing that, the fact that this life really is quite short, and knowing that there are volumes of scriptural exhortations about how we should love and only a few unclear references to the other, doesn’t it make sense for us to be spending a lot more time and effort practicing our loving than we sometimes do looking for faults in others or sharpening up our arguments? Especially when we know that he is much better at and is the only own assigned to do the judging?
I don’t mean to be confrontational at all. In fact that’s the opposite of my intent. I’ve just seen too many wonderful friends be hurt by an organization that, at its core in doctrine and faith, is designed to teach how to love to not send this hopeful reminder. I know I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know why people have the challenges they do or why a loving God would put us in situations bound to lead to those challenges. I do know that the God I worship is a God of love though. And I trust in His wisdom that all of the challenges we face will somehow be for our good if we are willing to learn from them.
But let’s stop being part of the challenges that others have to suffer through. Goodness knows, we all face a tough enough battle without our own turning their backs on us.
I hope Savannah’s church leaders, and others like them, get the message. It’s too late for many who have already left the church (or worse), but let’s make this right for Savannah and her friends, shall we?